Tag Archives: uk

Tom Arms’ World Review

United States

The Kevin McCarthy election fiasco will have far-reaching consequences for Speaker McCarthy, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, the conduct of US government and the rest of the world. Let’s start with Mr. Trump. He endorsed Mr McCarthy. The “Never Kevins” in the far-right Republican Freedom Caucus ignored him. The voters ignored his key endorsements in the mid-term elections. Trump’s star is still in the firmament, but on the wane.

Now for the Republican Party. The battle to secure McCarthy’s election exposed a split. A small group of 20 right-wing extremists were able to delay and nearly blocked the election of Kevin McCarthy against the wishes of 202 of their party colleagues. They have also wrung key concessions out of the Speaker. The Freedom Caucus have discovered power. They will use it.

What are these concessions and what impact will their implementation have? First of all, if any one member of Congress does not like something that Speaker McCarthy has done they can table a vote to remove him. At the very least, this has the potential to seriously disrupt and delay congressional business. .  This means that McCarthy will be much more politically circumspect then he might have been otherwise.

Next, the Speaker has agreed to give more time to debate and amend legislation on the floor of the house. The Freedom Caucus are also known as “Disrupters” and they are particularly keen on disrupting or blocking any spending bills, especially those related to Ukraine and foreign aid. And if it means stopping the machinery of government, then, according to Freedom Caucus members, so be it.

France

The British NHS is not the only European health service with problems. The French are also wringing their medical hands. The problem? Not enough staff and – as in Britain – the looming threat of strikes. As the New Year dawned some Paris hospitals reported 90 percent of staff reported sick in protest at working conditions. The country’s second largest health union has called for an “unlimited walkout” of nurses followed by a strike by GPs.

President Emmanuel Macron is throwing money at the problem but so far it is not working. Forty percent of French nurses are planning to leave the profession this year despite an extra $10 billion wage package.  Wannabe doctors are being offered a $50,000 golden handshake to enter the profession.

The French desperately needs them. Rural areas are especially short of medical staff, some communities have been without a doctor’s surgery for several years and the situation is only likely to worsen as about half of the French doctors are over 55 and fast approaching retirement age.

UK

There is a stand-out villain in Prince Harry’s book “Spare” – the press, especially Britain’s tabloid newspapers. I, in common with most of the public, have some sympathy and understanding with Harry’s views especially as one of the worst elements of the tabloids – the paparazzi played a major part in his mother’s death.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Mahsa Amin’s death

They are burning their headscarves and police cars in Iran. Persian women are fighting back against the mullahs’ morality police. The catalyst for their anger is the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amin. The Iranian authorities claim she died of a pre-existing heart condition. Rubbish, say her family, there was nothing wrong with her heart. She died, they claim, because she was beaten in the police van on the way to the station. Ms Amin was arrested because she was wearing her hijab or head scarf improperly. That is common offence which the morality police monitor along with the wearing of tight trousers and leggings, holding hands or kissing in public.

Iran is not the only Muslim country with morality police. Afghanistan has probably the most severe. Iran probably holds the number two slot. Others include Nigeria, Sudan and Malaysia. Then there is Saudi Arabia where the ruling family’s adoption of Islam’s strict Wahhabi sect led to the establishment of the notorious Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Better known among Saudis as simply “The Committee.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, however, has been circumscribing the morality police to the point of near extinction. The backlash in Iran may force the Mullahs to follow suit which can only undermine their wider claim to political legitimacy.

Another lurch to the right in Europe

Europe is taking another lurch to the right. This month two national parties with links to a fascist past have either come to power or are poised to do so.

Sweden has been known as Europe’s most tolerant country towards cultural diversity. But this month the rabid anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats emerged as the second largest party and is forming a government with the centre-right Moderates.

In a disturbing echo of Donald Trump, party leader Jimmie Akesson declared it was time to “Make Sweden Great Again.”

Georgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy has an equally upsetting motto which links her party to its fascist past—“God, family and fatherland.” Ms Meloni is expected to emerge as Italy’s prime minister after Sunday’s vote. Her party is Eurosceptic, anti-immigration, anti-gay, anti-abortion and has expressed doubts about NATO membership.

Italy and Sweden join Hungary, Britain, Czech Republic, Slovakia Austria and others who have lurched rightwards. There are differences between them but the one common element is the disturbing trend to portray their country as a victim.

Iceland

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Farron: Rise in UK deaths related to hunger a “national scandal”

The Huffington Post reports a rise in the number of deaths in which hunger is a factor in the UK. It’s up from 255 in 2005 to 375 in 2014. In 2013, that figure was even higher at 392.

Tim Farron was horrified to hear this, saying:

This shouldn’t be happening in 21st century Britain and the Government’s response is hopelessly complacent.

We seem to be creating ‘Breadline Britain’ for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

People are living under greater pressure and hearing thousands of people have died, in part, due to malnutrition is a national scandal.

We wonder if there …

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Against comfort blanket constitutionalism

At Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference, I committed a cardinal liberal offence. I voted against a pro-federalism motion, moved by Robert Brown and Lord Purvis. I opposed in sorrow and anger at the Party’s stasis on the constitutional question. I was also annoyed that attempts some of us made to secure a more robust debate at Conference on federalism, were rebuffed by Conference Committee. We were made to feel that the party bureaucracy did not want a real clash of ideas for Conference to resolve democratically.

The motion didn’t take practical steps towards advancing federalism any further than the Party already had. Its tone, if anything, made federalism more difficult to advance. Siobhan Mathers was right when she said in the debate that Lib Dems are excessively high-minded, believing they had more influence than was the reality on further devolution. Though the Campbell Commission reported first, it was outflanked by the Tory proposals on critical areas like welfare. The Party seems reluctant just to admit that, whatever the proximate cause, we lost our radical edge. We did not adapt to the shifting constitutional landscape even before the independence referendum.

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Gordon Brown shows Lib Dems must go further on federalism

I went to see a speech by Gordon Brown on the future of Scotland on Thursday evening. Given the current state of Scottish politics I might well have expected an impassioned attack on the SNP and a confident denunciation of independence.

Instead he was remarkably conciliatory on nationalism, given the past positions of the Labour party. He came out as a third-questioner – the never-offered option that has consistently found majority support. He called for a constitutional convention to address what he sees as the big issue in British politics – the ability of England to dominate politics due to its sheer size. He set out the case for special protections for the smaller nations, like in almost every other devolved country. He believed that Scots want something “as close as possible to federalism”.

He made no attacks on the SNP and even gave them some backhanded praise – surely their support for keeping the pound means they realise that the UK is a natural economic grouping? Instead he attacked the Tories – for cutting welfare and playing politics with EVEL – what other country gives special protection to the majority over the minority? The ìVowî was at risk of being broken he warned; Westminster may yet maintain a veto over key welfare powers.

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Opinion: “Britain isn’t a democracy – we can’t possibly say that!” Yes we can!

When I was at secondary school in the early 1970s, my history teacher was a man with a passion for his subject who always encouraged critical discussion. So while he taught us enthusiastically about British “democracy”, he was indulgent towards me when I challenged his assertion following the February 1974 election: the one where the Tories came top with 11.9 million votes (297 seats), Labour “won” with 11.6 million votes (301 seats) and the Liberals’ six million votes delivered 14 members of the House of Commons.

The reality is that the outcome of every election before and since 1974 has been unfair to a greater or lesser extent. Labour got more than nine times as many seats as the Liberal-SDP Alliance in 1983 with just 2% more of the vote. Tony Blair had a comfortable overall majority with 35.2% in 2005 while David Cameron fell well short five years later with 36.1%.

The 2015 election is more striking than most. The SNP got 95% of Scotland’s seats on just under half the vote. Each SNP MP represents roughly 25,000 voters while almost 3.9 million ballots were cast to get Douglas Carswell into Parliament. 51 of the 55 seats in South-West England are Conservative and Labour is the only other party with representation in that region.

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Willie Rennie accuses Conservatives of trying to pull the UK apart

For the third time in ten days, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has hit out at the Conservatives, accusing them of putting party before country and risking the future of the United Kingdom they say they want to keep together.

Their actions are very different, though. Last week, Michael Fallon talked up the entirely ridiculous suggestion of a deal between Labour and the SNP on Trident with the aim of persuading swing voters in middle England to vote Conservative. They also sent their Scottish leader campaigning in North East Fife, a seat they know that they can’t win. Willie Rennie said at the time:

Just the other day the Scottish Conservative Leader was visiting North East Fife claiming they can win.  It’s a seat the bookies say is a close race between the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.  The Tories are also rans.  The only result of their reckless actions would be to divide the non-SNP vote and let the SNP win.

Yesterday, Willie described the Conservative plans for English votes for English Laws as “unstable and reckless.”

We agree that there does need to be a stronger voice for England in parliament.

But we will not entertain a Conservative attempt to gerrymander those votes in order to give the Conservatives a majority say on these important matters when they don’t command a majority of peoples’ votes in England.

Like all other forms of devolution in the United Kingdom any change must be based on fairer proportional voting, not Tory plans to create a majority by the back door. The Conservatives unstable and reckless reforms threaten to undermine the future of the UK.

And, finally, today, he condemned a Conservative poster being shown in England, saying that the Tories have joined the SNP in trying to pull the country apart.

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Charles Kennedy MP writes…Our challenge for 2015 is to make positive case for UK political reform

 

As the BBC Radio Scotland self-promotional message has been reminding us at regular intervals throughout the holiday period 2014 certainly was “Scotland’s Year.” The best of times, the worst of times. From the sporting triumphs of the outstandingly successful Commonwealth Games and the hosting of the victorious Ryder Cup through to the referendum and ending on the tragedy of the Glasgow bin lorry crash we have never been out of the news.

The ever-perceptive journalist and commentator Iain MacWhirter (like myself, essentially, a federalist – unlike myself a Yes voter) reckons that the referendum represented the moment at which Scotland became “psychologically independent.” It is an interesting reflection and one which will be further tested as soon as May in the looming Westminster general election.

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Opinion: Federalism and hypothecation do not mix

I was dismayed to read in Mohsin Khan’s recent piece calling for an NHS contribution that the leadership is, again, considering an NHS tax.

How history repeats itself. Ten or so years ago, when working for the Welsh Party, I opposed plans for what the Federal Policy Committee was then also referring to as an NHS contribution. My contention was, and remains, that a commitment to a Federal UK is not compatible with hypothecated taxation.

Whilst taxes are collected at a UK level, spending priorities are determined by devolved institutions. In our devolved context, any claim that a tax is truly hypothecated is simply dishonest. We could not guarantee that a centrally collected NHS tax would be spent on the NHS in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.  It is impossible to require a particular portion of taxation to be spent in the devolved nations on specific areas without requiring them to do so by law.  This would laugh in the face of the liberal principle of subsidiarity and is clearly a non-starter.

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